|"From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggety beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!"
| The run begins on the Day of the Late Phoenix in the Month of the Bear in the eleventh Year of the Bear since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place mostly north of the Wall
In Tahiti, Kuan-Xi pesters Wei Han about getting her the army reports. Wei Han is still dubious, but Kuan-Xi emphasizes that one, this is in support of the Wolf spirit, who arranged for the Northerners to attack on days when the Empire is strong, and two, isn't Wei Han supposed to be working for her at least until it gets the Walls moved back? He agrees to find the reports for her.
The butler brings Xiao Fa his travelling pack, which has a special compartment for the stone of the research assistant, as well as containing four useful things. Xiao Fa reminds everyone about his research-assistant-ghost-in-a-stone, that Mu the Mad bound, and that they need to break the altar in the old ruined fort in order to free the man's spirit. The stone will be left with the Clear Melting temple, while the group heads north to break the altar; otherwise, his spirit will be trapped north of the Wall.
The party leaves the Talismans at home, but Cai Wen brings the Sankara stone, on the theory that it can't be much worse in the North.
Takanata paints a castle (those who have been there recognize the fortress Mu the Mad was using), and then carefully begins to stab around it in a circle. He seems to have acquired an interesting knife to stab with, which is more puzzling than the picture. Everyone looks at it suspiciously. Kuan-Xi doesn't think it does anything, but Shen-Ji thinks that it's a magic item as made by an art sorcerer, with significant artistic potential. Master Deng thinks it's a nice knife. Takanata carves a statuette of the Jasmine, sleeping on the riverbank, but everyone else thinks it looks like a statue of the dead body of the Jasmine. Well, that is disturbing. Takanta's "interpret omens" assures him that she's not dead, but the difference between how he sees the carving and how everyone else does is definitely odd. Shen-Ji confirms that the knife isn't necromantic - it's not death-powered, it's an artistic interpretation of death. It's like a goth knife. Takanata grumbles that everyone else is interpreting his art wrong.
Cai Wen looks at it using the Orb of True Seeing, and Yoshis himself with Butterfly. Everyone else is worried that Takanata is Yoshi'ed. Xiao Fa looks at them both and clears out Cai Wen's influence.
So... if it was created by an art sorcerer, which one? The only art sorcerer anyone knows is Shen-Ji, and it doesn't look like his work. Cai Wen thinks that the scrollwork on the knife is similar to the scrollwork on Butterfly's lorgnette, though Takanata is dubious. Kuan-Xi points out that the holes Takanata has made in the watercolor are basically a "stabby line of death" around the tower.
To the North
The party heads up to Daizhou, where Wei Han asks the Dragon Army stationed there what is known about the fort. He hears that the fort is in Sector 3, and that Sector 12 (in the middle) has necromancers and ghosts everywhere. When the enemy carried away any fallen Empire wounded, they took them towards Sector 3.
Xiao Fa drops by the Clear Melting temple to give them the stone. He cautions them to not destroy it until his return, at which point they can destroy it together. They note that they're a little short-handed, as a lot of people are off dealing with Sector 12, but they put it in a binding circle. They also loan him a sledgehammer for necromantic altar-smashing.
Wei Han convinces a scout, Scout Sergeant Chen, to come with them and make sure they arrive. Chen is normally stationed in Sector 2, but it's been clean of spooks for a while now. He's not pleased to be going to Sector 3, because ghosts are a pain, but he'll come along to protect them.
Shen-Ji declares that everyone can cross the wall, for the next ten seconds, and Wei Han has a feeling that a lot of something is trying to cross, and almost makes it, in sector 12. Various threats are exchanged. Sgt. Chen warns everyone if they see ghosts, they can just step out of the way and they'll fly right past, but if they see a giant spectral woman, they should plug their ears.
Cai Wen looks up Chiyo, who is glad of an excuse to get away from Headquarters for a while. It's nothing serious, just a disagreement between herself and some people who have more rank. She does know a little more of the overall state of things, and gives Cai Wen a quick briefing, which may or may not make things clearer. Ever since sector 3 went dark, the "ghost river" stopped. It's not clear what's going on in Sector 3, though, because scouts who go there don't come back. Normally ghosts move from west to east, but they've been building up in sector 12 for a week or two, and there are no ghosts at all in sector 2. She notes that ever since the Dragon Army started crossing the wall, there have been more ghosts, possibly because there are more people dying on the far side.
Sgt. Chen and Chiyo swap ghost stories, and argue about the spectral woman - Sgt. Chen thinks she convinces you to stab your friends, but Chiyo thinks she just herds the other ghosts around.
Wei Han acquires some horses from the garrison, so the party doesn't get theirs killed, and declares that they'll cross in Sector 2 and move over land to Sector 3.
Crossing the wall goes easily enough, with Shen-Ji's permission, and so does the jaunt from Sector Two to Sector Three. The castle itself is quite ominous, though - there is a trench around it, like a moat, except that it is filled with bodies instead of water, and around the outside of the trench is a perilous-looking vine, much like the one protecting the catapults in a previous battle. Some people seem to be working on and around the castle, but they are hard to make out.
Cai Wen looks at the castle through the Orb of True Seeing, but this proves to be a mistake, and it takes a strong kiss from Chiyo to get him to stop screaming.
- "That's not good."
- "Can you be more specific?"
- "Um... really bad?"
Cai Wen is clear that the vine demarcates a Giant Line of Death. That could be a problem, even if Wei Han thinks he's immortal. (Others point out that he does seem to have gone to the World After in the past, and the World After here is a lot less nice.)
Takanata carves the castle and the guards with the Spooky Knife, and everyone else thinks that he's made a castle with zombies and a lich. Hmm. That may just be more evidence that the knife is goth, rather than anything more useful.
The group wonders if there might be someone up here who knows more about the castle. Maybe Hana? Maybe Hana is in Sector 12? All right, maybe they should investigate that plot in Sector 12 after all.
- "Who is Hana?" -Chiyo
- "She was my great-niece." -Takanata
- "Oh, I'm sorry."
Everyone heads west, and eventually reaches Sector 12. (Traveling this far through the North is not usually so uneventful, but Scout Sgt Chen proves himself quite useful here). Sure enough, Hana proves to be in Sector 12, and the group heads over to her. Scout Sgt Chen puts his fingers in his ears, and shouts at everyone to not listen to her.
- "I'm sorry, the terrible specter of death is your great niece?" -Chiyo
After some initial pleasantries, Hana explains that she's been warning ghosts to keep them away from the castle; that's why they’re gathering in sector 12. They've been piling up at the weak spot in the wall, but they can't get through, and they can't go east any longer. The party wonders where they used to go when they went east, but Hana says that's a secret. She's been trying to get some of them past the wall. Wei Han glares at her - why does she want to get ghosts past the Wall? Well, because she can't send them east, and there are a lot of Empire soldiers dying north of the Wall now. Shen-Ji notes that he can let them through, but only when he's standing right there. After some further questioning, Hana admits that she had been sending the ghosts to Hiro, the long way around. Takanata hopes that she's getting a good deal from Yama for it. Well, Hiro says it's worth it, but in particular she and her brother think that Yama is better than the Northern afterlife for Northerners, and probably better than the Northern afterlife for Empire ghosts if they can't go to their own afterlife.
As for the castle - she can go into it (being dead), but there are a pair of powerful necromancers, and she can't fight both of them. One of them is a ghost, and one is alive. So... how can the party get into the castle? Hana wonders if they are opposed to dying. Well... how permanently? She thinks that she can probably figure out something to fix being dead, given access to the necromantic altar inside the castle.
One odd thing to wonder about is the fact that Takanata's picture is much greener than the current environment of the fortress (especially given that it's winter). Could that be part of the spooky knife effect? Hana thinks the knife is pretty, which just lends more credence to the idea that it's spooky.
There are two different issues that face anyone who wants to sneak into the castle - one, the line of death. Two, being recognized by the inhabitants and attacked. Well, possibly a disguise will help against the latter - Xiao Fa pulls out some fabric from his pack (some of the useful items that the butler packed), and Takanata starts cutting and sewing it into cloaks, using his goth knife. He thinks they look fancy, but everyone else (except Hana) thinks it looks like a creepy Nazgul cloak. Well, that will probably do for disguises, once he finishes a set of them, but Sergeant Chen is starting to get kind of disturbed by the party in their spooky Nazgul outfits, and tries to convince Wei Han that they should back away from the would-be-undead and go back to the Wall. Wei Han shushes him.
So... will Nazgul disguises be sufficient to get the group in? Hana thinks it will fool the zombie guards easily, but she is less sure that the hedge cares about disguises.
Into the Castle
Another Nazgul, this one not affiliated with the party, rides in, and the horse leaps the vine and trench with no ill effect. Sgt. Chen identifies it as a "Dark Rider", a physical undead. Kuan-Xi loiters over towards the vine, and notes that it's necromancy-infused wood sorcery, but the wood sorcery itself is Empire magic. One of the guards heads in her direction, wanting to know what she's doing, but "looking around" seems to be an acceptable answer for a zombie.
A spectral woman appears at the top of the tower, and begins to sing. Hana frowns - nobody is that good at singing - and notes that that's a "spectral siren". She should go head off any more ghosts who are being lured this way.
Zhi-Hao reminds everyone that the castle is surrounded by cliffs unless you use the steps, and that the altar is at the foot of the stairs in the basement, from the last time he was here. Everyone, including the GMs, is impressed.
Shen-Ji considers the vine, and concludes that blowing up the vine itself will cause the death element to dissipate over the course of a drift or two.
The group divides into those who are willing to die crossing the vine, in the confidence that Hana can bring them back, and those who aren't. Shen-Ji and Xiao Fa (plus Hana) will start on Team Dead, and Takanata, Kuan-Xi, Deng, Wei Han, Cai Wen, Scout Sgt Chen, and Chiyo will refrain from dying.
An Official Plan is drawn up:
- Shen-Ji blows a hole in the hedge
- Shen-Ji and Xiao Fa cross the hedge and die, and continue in as ghosts (Hana can float and go through walls, but she thinks that recent ghosts will tend to not have those shticks yet.)
- Everyone else mills around outside until the hedge-death dissipates from the hole in the hedge
- Then they go through and get the altar
Cai Wen thinks that the first place that things will go wrong with the plan is in the extended milling about phase; something will probably come out and start causing trouble. Well, that's basically just "Get Em", one way or another, so it's time to get started.
Shen-Ji disintegrates a chunk of the hedge into splinters, and then he and Xiao Fa leap forward across the remaining hedge, and collapse, dead, into the trench of bodies. The ghost of a Dragon Army corporal shows up to assure them that everything is fine - just listen to the Master's voice, and everything will make sense.
The siren begins singing, but Shen-Ji, being married, is immune to her charms. Hana is also immune, but Xiao Fa starts to pay attention.
Various other forms of undead start to appear to deal with things - a ghost attacks Hana, a wraith heads out to investigate the hole in the hedge, and a Ghost Master appears to get the smaller ghosts working together. Happily, Sergeant Chen can identify all of these, including the ones that nobody else can see. Wait... Sergeant Chen can see ghosts? Well, yes - how else would he dodge them? Everyone starts planning to learn this shtick from him. Chen suggests that to get the Dragon Army ghosts on their side, they will have to take out the Ghost Master and the Spectral Siren. And the necromancer, of course, if he's nearby.
Other scary creatures emerge - a Skeleton Lord, a "physical engine of death", and a Wailing Horror, a ghost that affects the living. Several voices from inside the castle argue - one wants to come out and deal, and the other voice assures the first voice that things are under control. The siren convinces Xiao Fa to stay put until everything is sorted out. Takanata spots an Empire demon, waiting for something - he charges in, waving his sword and pointing it out in Torghut to the zombie guards.
Xiao Fa heals a ghost, damaging it and blowing his cover, so the other nearby ghosts mob him. The siren tries again to compel him, but he blocks it with a chi barrier, at which point he can tell that it's a horrible undead thing and not just a pretty singing woman. The live party destroys the wraith (which explodes in corruption to damage nearby people), and the group heads into the castle and heads for the necromancer. They encounter the dark rider first and take him out - Kuan-Xi pushes him away with a water jet, so that when he explodes he doesn't kill their horses. The siren also goes down. The Ghost Master compels Shen-Ji to shoot his friends, but luckily for them, he's burned most of his actions already.
Takanata marks up his Spooky Goth Dagger with the elemental crayon, and threatens the demon with it: "The last one of you who went against me in the North is a Northern Abomination now". Then he stabs the demon with it, ordering the zombies that this is the thing they need to attack.
Zhi-Hao and the Skeleton Lord are well-matched, and the necromancer burns some of the reserve zombies to patch it up. But finally when it dies, it explodes with all the extra damage done to it, which Deng chooses to let Sergeant Chen take, killing him horribly. The Wailing Horror convinces Wei Han that it's hopeless - he should sit down and give up. After that, though, the group takes out the necromancer.
- "Free! I am free! Muah ha hah hah ha!" -Mu
Zhi-Hao heads downstairs, where there is a skull sitting on the necromantic altar. He throws a knife at it, knocking it to the ground, and Mu's ghost rises from it.
The Ghost Master and the Wailing Horror are no longer bound, so they start sidling away. Xiao Fa issues an Imperial Command to two of the Dragon Army ghosts to follow him.
- "Why am I the only one who isn't allowed to command undead?" -Shen-Ji
Mu calls on Shen-Ji:
- "Save me, and I will teach you to use your necromantic fire sorcery to burn your enemies and then raise them and then burn them to ashes again." -Mu
However, in the end, Shen-Ji pulls out Mu's notebook, noting that he already has all Mu's secrets, and shoots an iron arrow through it and into Mu's ghost.
The demon suggests to Takanata that the both of them return to the Empire and pretend this never happened; as Takanata has lost the zombies following him and is out of attacks, he agrees.
That seems to be all the opposition, so the party takes stock. Zhi-Hao, feeling terribly guilty, gets people (and all the healing potions) to heal Scout Sergeant Chen's mangled body, in the hopes that Hana can make him less dead. Of the remaining Dragon Army ghosts, one had their body turned into a zombie, but the bodies of the other two are still in zombie storage, which means they are fixable by Hana.
Hana takes charge to start putting ghosts back in bodies, but then she summons the Great Phoenix for the final step. Shen-Ji boggles - that's Imperial Necromancy, whatever that means. Phoenix pats Wei Han on the head and tells him that it's okay - don’t worry too much about all the necromancy happening just now, but he finds Her patronizing him about as annoying as he usually finds Da-Xie.
Now, it's time to bring the others back. Shen-Ji ends up having a long discussion with Phoenix about this whole "becoming a god" thing before being returned; Xiao Fa gets a shorter discussion. When the two Dragon Army soldiers are reborn, they say "yes, Ma'am" to the Phoenix and go to report to Xiao Fa.
Takanata tries to figure out what the demon was trying to do. Was this tied to the omen about "A town or a keep where the dead walk and the living do not, keeping a terrible beast imprisoned within"? He thinks that was it, and Mu the Mad was the terrible beast, but there was probably more to it, and it didn't go off. It's in the North but in a Dragon Army fort, so it's unclear how much it would count on its own.
The more strong-stomached search through the moat of bodies, looking for loot. They find ten x4 swords and two cloaks of stealth that belonged to hapless scouts. Chiyo collects dog tags to return to the army.
Chiyo and Sergeant Chen claim the cloaks of stealth. One of the swords is Northern and uses battle magic; the others are just very well-made. The swords get divided up - Shen-Ji claims the battle sword, in particular.
Shen-Ji and Hana chat. He is willing to open up windows in the Wall when Empire ghosts can come through, but he has to be there in person, and he can't commit to a schedule to be there. Neither can Hana, really - she has things to be doing, and necromancers to be avoiding, as well. Perhaps they can figure out a way to communicate to arrange for meet-ups.
Of the rest of the Dragon Army ghosts here now, Hana thinks that if they are let through the wall, the ones that are at peace will go to the World After, but the rest of them (and that's most of them, after time being ghosts in the North) will probably be ghosts there. Well, the Clear Melting Sect will probably have to be involved.
Xiao Fa starts smashing the altar, but he can only knock off a chip here and there, until Wei Han takes over. After sufficient smashing, the altar cracks into pieces with a burst of necromantic energy. The skull shatters, and Takanata's dagger shatters, and far away, the white stone with the research assistant shatters. (Takanata still thinks his art looks reasonable, though).
Takanata copies the fresco with the painting of Wei Han, before Shen-Ji sets the entire place on fire, burning the bodies in the "moat".
Zhi-Hao and Wei Han press Sergeant Chen about teaching them to see ghosts, though he thinks it's more of an expertise than something that can be taught.
Then, it's back across the Wall, bringing the one Dragon Army ghost. The hundreds in Sector 12 will have to wait.
- Master Zhou heads back to the White Pagoda to investigate the "haunting".
- Xiao Fa checks out the feng shui at Takanata's new house.
- Shen-Ji works on convincing the Elemental Braid that they do so want to help him become a god.
- Master Zhou asks various old masters for advice on his frame.
- Shen-Ji presents his wife with some noodle kraken liver. From all accounts, it is not very tasty.
- Takanata tries to dream walk to Chochiro, but isn't able to find her.
- Lijuan briefs House Xing on the recent battles with the North.
- Takanata talks to Ti Lao about switching back the walls.
- Wei Han, Lijuan, and Shen-Ji fight on the Day of the Late Bear and the Day of the Early Dog during the Northern invasion.